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Competitor-In-Chief: Top Five President-Athletes

Joe ConchaContributor IIFebruary 17, 2011

Competitor-In-Chief: Top Five President-Athletes

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    Baller-in-chief: The President's got game...particularly from 3-point landAlex Wong/Getty Images

    How many people do you think had this lethal combination on their college applications? 

    Senior class president, captain of the (insert sport here) team.

    More than a few, methinks...

    Accomplished athletes residing at a slightly higher level than class president at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are now more common as television, and therefore a physical fit appearance, becomes a larger part of the job description. Chris Christie may change all of that if he decides to run in 2012, but for now, the current President has about as much body fat as The Situation (or as he was referred to last episode, The Snitchuation).

    Ever since FDR's unfortunate bout with polio left him commanding U.S. forces in World War II from the seat of a wheelchair, the presidency has seen some impressive jocks in the West Wing from Eisenhower to Ford to Bush 41 and 43. With all the pressure of the job, a good workout or pickup game appears to be the preferred way to relieve stress, and that's a good thing.

    So in honor of President's Day, who are the top five president-athletes of the past dozen administrations?

    You've got questions, we've got answers...

Competitor-In-Chief: Top Five President-Athletes

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    The other Jack: Kennedy had a 7-10 handicap despite a very bad back

    5) John F. Kennedy:

    Considering an entire medical journal could be dedicated to the 35th President alone, the fact that Kennedy was able to do anything remotely athletic was a miracle. Check out this medical train-wreck of a resume: Addisonism, APS, Osteoporosis, Hypothyroidism, colitis, scarlet fever, hospitalized more than three dozen times...given last rites three times.

    Regardless of major limitations, Kennedy made the varsity swim team at Harvard, had a 7-10 handicap in golf, owned and operated a fleet of sailboats/yachts big and small, and played touch football while President. It must mean two things: (A) The painkillers taken were tremendously effective or (B) JFK loved sports so much that he simply played through pain.

    In a related story, ancestry.com shows no bloodlines in common between the Kennedy family and the Cutlers.

    As president, Kennedy made emphasizing The President's Council on Physical Fitness a higher educational priority and encouraged Americans of all ages to take physical fitness more seriously.

Competitor-In-Chief: Top Five President-Athletes

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    Bush and The Babe: The Yale first baseman meets a living legend before a game in 1948

    4) George H.W. Bush:

    Believe it or not, there once was a time the Ivy League dominated the college sports scene.

    Case in point: Yale's baseball team appeared in the first two College World Series in 1947 and 1948, led by a lanky first baseman named George Herbert Walker Bush (no relation to Homer Bush). The Bulldogs captain was truly a student-athlete, graduating in just two-and-a-half years.

    Forty decades after winning the presidency, he kept his mitt from his Yale days in a drawer of his desk in the Oval Office. And 17 years after leaving Washington, he celebrated his 85th birthday by going skydiving. 

    Wouldn't be prudent for everyone at that age to do the same...  

Competitor-In-Chief: Top Five President-Athletes

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    Ford owns Michigan: The future President was the Wolverines' MVP in 1934Michigan University/Getty Images

    3) Gerald Ford:

    Make no mistake: Ford was portrayed as more clumsy than Cosmo Kramer during his short tenure as President. That characterization may have been justified after infamously slipping down the steps of Air Force One and nailing a few unsuspecting spectators with a few tee shots gone bad.

    Said the great Bob Hope: "You don’t know what fear is until you hear Ford behind you shouting 'Fore!' - and you're still in the locker room."

    But 40 years before becoming the most powerful man on Earth, Ford was the most powerful man in Ann Arbor. As a star lineman, his Michigan teams won two national championships in 1932 and '33. A three-peat wasn't in the cards, but Ford did take team MVP honors in 1934. As a result, the NFL came calling (particularly the Packers and Lions), but Ford decided to go to law school instead.

    The 38th President went on to be an 8-handicap in golf. More importantly, he was nimble enough to avoid two assassination attempts.

Competitor-In-Chief: Top Five President-Athletes

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    12 for 44: The President got roughed up to the tune of a dozen stitches in a pickup game in November

    2) Barack Obama:

    Beat former hoops star and former Big Ten Player of the Year Clark Kellogg in a game of horse (which was actually  called P-O-T-U-S) last April, declaring—after falling behind early—that he wouldn't be embarrassed on national television. While some believe Kellogg may have gone easy on the President after getting out to an early lead, Obama nevertheless rallied and eventually clinched the game with a corner trey that resembled a Derek Fisher stroke thanks to his southpaw stroke (it turns out four of the last five Presidents are lefty...go figure).

    The game of basketball hasn't always been kind to the Chicago native, who once led his college team in scoring (Occidental). Later last year, he took an elbow to the lip in a pickup game that apparently resembled a Big East tussle that required 12 stitches. 

    So while the President is the best hoops player in White House history and even installed a court at the White House, other sports may be another matter altogether. In fact, he may have a higher scoring average in basketball than bowling, where he once rolled a 37 in seven frames while campaigning in 2008.

    Then again, many of you likely don't think bowling is even a sport in the first place, so we'll let that one slide.

Competitor-In-Chief: Top Five President-Athletes

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    Why is golf the billion-dollar industry it is today? You're looking at two big reasons why in Arnie and Ike

    1) Dwight Eisenhower

    How much did Ike like golf? Let's put it this way: Thanks to the his professed love of the game and his close friendship with Arnold Palmer, the number in the golfers in the country doubled during the Eisenhower presidency from 3.2 million in 1953 to well over six million upon leaving office.

    That fact is not lost on the World Golf Hall of Fame, who selected the late president in 2009 in the Lifetime Achievement category. Amazingly, Eisenhower is said to have played 800 rounds (yup, 800) during his two-term tenure. Augusta National was particularly his favorite, although a pine tree on 17 would prove to be his nature nemesis. Ike would proceed to hit that tree (located about 200 yards from the tee) so often that he proposed it be eliminated from the course.

    That wouldn't happen, but the tree would be named after Eisenhower, as would a pond and a cabin that still has the presidential seal on it today. Ironically, despite playing so often, Ike only broke 80 three times in his lifetime.

    So why is Eisenhower #1?

    Overall, his sports resume simply is the most impressive and very deep. At West Point, he was a starting at running back and linebacker in 1912 for a great team before a knee injury from horseback riding and boxing eventually did him in. He also coached football at St. Louis College while stationed at Fort Sam Houston in 1916. And of course, there's that whole Supreme-Commander-of-Allied-Forces-in-Europe-thing in World War II, perhaps the greatest victory of all.

    Honorable mention: George W. Bush (no President threw out ceremonial first pitches better than Bush 43, also was/is in phenomenal shape); Richard Nixon (averaged 185 in bowling and once rolled a perfect game...well, at least according to himself).

    Joe Concha is a regular contributor to the Bleacher Report, plays bogey golf and particularly excels at co-ed beer pong. Email questions or comments to joeconcha@yahoo.com

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